The questions we get asked the most revolve around average speed and which group is the 'right' one for people to join on a ride. Not only that, but the fear of picking the 'wrong' group, or being worried about the level of the ride, is probably the biggest cause of people not joining a ride in the first place. This doesn't just apply to new and beginner riders; we get questions from experienced riders who are also trying to gauge the pace of the ride or group. It's a big deal for most, so we thought we'd cover some of the main concerns, as well as try and explain what each of the group level actually means for you.
It is worth saying at this point that none of the below is designed to put people off joining a ride or their desired group. It's merely a guide to try and help you into the group or ride that suits your current level, and then give you options when you do feel ready to push yourself a bit more. It's also important to remember that the majority of our rides are 'no drop' (no ones left behind), so everyone will be looked after by the ride leaders throughout the ride. If you are at all unsure about what group to join then please email us or message us on social media. We're aways happy to have a chat about what works best for you.
What Is Average Speed?
First things first: average speed. Everyone is very concerned about average speed, but unless you really understand what average speed means to a group ride, it's a bit redundant. Most people will look at their own Strava data for a ride and use that average speed to determine what ride or group they should join. However, it's a bit more complicated than that:
Average Speed vs. 'Instantaneous Speed'
Getting a bit #science here, but please stay with us. What many people don't consider or know is that average speed is not the same as 'instantaneous speed'. This is your speed at any given time during the ride (it might be easier to call this 'rolling speed'). Due to stopping and slowing down (for traffic lights etc), you would have to travel at 26-28kph whilst moving in order to maintain an average speed of 24kph. Likewise if you sign up to a ride or group that is set to average 22kph, you will spend most of your 'moving time' traveling at around 24kph. So don't be alarmed if your group is travelling at speeds above the advertised group average - it will level out by the end of the ride.
There are many factors that can change your average speed, all of which should be taken into consideration:
- Hills - How hilly the ride is has the biggest effect on average speed. A ride in Norfolk doesn't compare to a ride in the Lakes, so look at the profile of the route. Fewer hills = higher average speed *NB. don't think the downhills will balance out the speed - they won't ;)
- Weather - Mainly wind, but rain and temperature have an effect too. A big headwind will slow your average down (a big tailwind will speed it up). If it's raining you will ride slower to stay safe, and if it's cold your muscles won't work as well. It all makes a difference, so look at the weather before picking your ride or group.
- Length - How long is the ride? The greater the distance the lower your average speed will generally be, as you have to maintain the pace for longer.
- Environment - Do you live in a city? Do you have to navigate traffic and lights etc at the start and end of your ride? This will greatly reduce your average speed over the course of the ride.
- Company - riding in a group will generally make your average speed higher as you can hide from the wind and save energy. The motivation you gain from a group also ups your average speed too - that and the chatting means you don't often notice how fast you're going!
The above should always be taken into account when you're checking average speeds. As should your surroundings - if you live in London then the first and last parts of the ride (i.e. getting in and out of town) will be slower on average due to the amount of stoppages. Therefore the sections of the ride in the countryside, on open roads without stoppages, will be faster to make up the average speed. If you start and end your ride in the countryside (or on one of our lovely cycling holidays) the average speed will be higher and more consistent.
As an example, If you can maintain 23kph for 4-5 laps of Richmond Park (roughly 2.5 hours), then your average speed would be lower on a hilly Surrey ride which lasts 4 hours. At a guess, you might average 20-21kph on a ride like this. Alternatively, on a Windsor ride, which is predominantly flat, you might average 24kph for 3 to 4 hours, especially if you're riding in a group. So always check the route link on a ride and look at the profile (number of hills) and metres gained. See handy (badly photoshopped) example route page below:
Based on the above, and the use of our famous 'no drop policy', desired average speeds aren't always met. A no drop policy means that no one gets left behind, so therefore any group will always travel at the pace of the slowest riders. If this means not maintaining the desired average speed then so be it - we don't drop people!
If the above info still doesn't make sense then please email us to discuss average speeds and what it means for your group/ride choices.
Level of Group or Ride
We try and split all of our rides into levels (beginner, medium, intermediate and advanced) so that everyone knows what to expect when signing up. We also try to attach an average speed, but as you can see above this is more of a rough guide than an exact science. The level of ride will stay the same, but the average speed will change based on the profile and terrain, so don't be surprised to see two beginner rides side by side with different average speeds. It's all down to terrain and length.
To denote different levels we use a colour scheme - from blue (beginner) to red (advanced). So a blue ride would be a beginner suitable ride, and a yellow ride is a medium level ride, up to red which is advanced. Think of it like a ski resort and it all makes sense. Blue rides are the easiest, and red rides are the hardest, with yellow and orange in between. Any given ride will have a rough average speed attached too, but that average speed will change from ride to ride depending on the terrain. So a Blue ride to Windsor (flat) might have an attached average speed of 22kph, whereas a Blue ride to Surrey (hills) would have an attached average speed of 20kph. Following so far... ;)
If you are unsure about which group to pick then please contact us for a chat and we can discuss. We'd aways recommend opting for a lower level group for your first ride and then building up from there. Trying a few different levels, whilst still riding within yourself, is also a great way to get a feel for the different group levels. Some medium rides might feel a bit faster then others due to the group & conditions etc, so trying out a few will give you a good idea of what to expect.
Blue Rides (Beginner level):
Beginner rides are open to all and are our lowest level and speed group rides. They will typically be shorter distances too compared to the other levels. The emphasis is on learning, gaining confidence and practising riding in a group with others, not on speed. There will be plenty of stopping to regroup, drink water and discuss technique, so lots of breaks!
Blue rides are a great way for new riders to gauge their level and chat to ride leaders about the club and other levels of ride. As a guide a blue ride will have an attached average speed of 18 - 22kph depending on the terrain (again, to really drive the point home, more hills & more kilometres will equal a lower average speed).
Join a blue ride if you're new to cycling and unsure of your level, if you want help with certain beginner cycling techniques and to build your confidence. All bike & kit types are welcome on blue rides. If you're an experienced rider, but you want a chilled, chatty ride with a lovely group of new riders, then blue rides are also great. Will usually involve a great coffee & cake stop too :)
Yellow Rides (Medium level):
Yellow rides are small step up from blue rides, with a slightly higher average speed and marginally less stopping (so slightly more continuous effort). Yellow rides will roughly average 20 - 25kph depending on the terrain, and will generally cover a bit more distance than a blue ride. Again the emphasis is on learning to ride in a group and building confidence, it's just done at a slightly faster pace.
Yellow rides are perfect for anyone who has done a blue ride and found it too easy, or wants to push themselves a little bit harder. You should have a reasonable level of fitness and ideally have ridden in a group before (or ridden with the blue group at least once). All bike and kit types are welcome on a Yellow ride.
Orange Rides (Intermediate level):
Still no drop rides, but the orange group is our 'intermediate' level rides. This means that the average speed is generally 2-3kph higher than yellow, and with significantly less stopping. Groups will aim to travel at 24 - 28kph (depending on terrain) and will usually cover 70+ kilometres. Depending on the ride there may not be a cafe stop, meaning that you would have to sustain the above pace without stopping to refuel.
Orange rides are ideal for anyone who has been riding in a group for a while and been building their fitness and speed, as well as group riding confidence. Orange rides are a good place to learn more advanced group riding techniques like through and off. We would recommend road bikes and clipless pedals for orange rides. We wouldn't recommend joining an orange ride as your first one unless you have experience riding in groups. Again, email us to check or if you're unsure
Red Rides (Advanced level):
Like on the ski slope, red rides are a tough workout. Typically these will have an attached average speed of 26 - 30kph with very little stopping. Rides will cover over 70km and only have a cafe stop if they near the 90-100km mark or over. Whilst no one will be intentionally 'dropped', red rides are not 'no drop', meaning that there is a small chance that you might have to exit the ride at a train station or safe place if you cannot maintain the pace (especially on a longer ride).
This is very unlikely to happen - what is more likely is that some groups will form during the ride, and these groups will travel at different speeds, finishing a little bit apart from each other. We always recommend that all riders have the route downloaded to their GPS device just in case.
Red rides are perfect for more experienced riders who are keen to push themselves on a fast, no stop ride. You should be experienced riding with a group (either with us or other groups), have a good level of fitness and be comfortable covering over 100km at a decent average speed (depending on terrain, between 26 and 30kph).
To reiterate none of the above is designed to put people off joining a ride or group, we just want to try and inform you of what to expect when you set off from the cafe. We always urge you to get in touch via email or by Facebook Messenger (see the button below) if you have any questions at all. Someone will always come back to you to discuss.
Thanks for reading and look forward to seeing you on the road soon!